Lizz Wright: Freedom & Surrender

By Rashad Phillips   Photography by: Jesse Kitt

Lizz Wright is an artist that you can’t put into a box. Every time that Wright releases a new album she surprises her fans by showing more musical depth. With the release of Freedom & Surrender, her new album, Wright peels away another layer and allows her fans to see another side of her. Since the release of Fellowship (2010), Wright has experienced several life-changing events which led her to find freedom through surrendering. One of the results of Lizz Wright’s changes is a new hairstyle. On the cover of Fellowship, Wright was sporting a mini-Fro but now she has Locs.

Since the release of Salt (2003), her debut album. Wright has been traveling around the globe to perform and spreading her love of music and life. During my interview with Lizz Wright, I learned that she constantly seeks to commune with nature to remain grounded and authentic. Music is an avenue for her to express her deepest emotions. The little brown-skinned Georgia girl, who many thought might become a master gardener, has transformed herself into an international natural hair ambassador. Lean In, the first video from Freedom & Surrender, created buzz on social media and had Naturalistas talking about the number of beautiful Naturalistas who were featured in the video. If you don’t know Lizz Wright, this interview will give you a little piece of Lizz and probably have you craving for more.

Phillips: It’s been five years since your last album, please catch us up on all things Lizz Wright?

Wright: In order for artists to have a longer career, it’s important for us to have a real life. Traveling from city to city and living out of suitcases can have an impact on our creativity. Going into my 30s and my fifth record, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to sing about. In order to keep myself nurtured, I wanted to go back to how I was raised and live closer to land. Also, I wanted to be closer to my family so that I could drive home instead of flying. Lots of beautiful stories evolved out of my down time and gave me ideas of what to sing about on Freedom & Surrender.

Freedom & Surrender

Love is my biggest source of inspiration.

Phillips: What inspires you?

Wright: The earth inspires me. Wherever I am in the world, I try to spend some time connecting with the closest natural elements. I gain inspiration from staying in contact with the earth, water, plants, and all aspects of nature. My mental capacity is affected by my circulation, so I like to run for exercise. Often times, I get a double dose of inspiration while observing nature when running.

Love is my biggest source of inspiration. The gift of being an artist is that I love deeply and I don’t try to filter my feelings. I am constantly trying to channel my feelings and infuse them in my music which is an expression of my love.

Phillips: Have you ever relaxed your hair? If so, why?

Wright: Oh yes, I’ve relaxed my hair. I’m a southern girl. Our hair is supposed to be straight and long. We are supposed to do all things “marryable”. I’m a minister’s daughter, so my hair had to be straight. My sister and I had to brush our hair 100 strokes per night and we weren’t allowed to cut our hair. I was raised in country suburbia in middle Georgia. We lived in a beautiful well-kept, double-wide trailer. My parents did the best that they could on a limited budget. They could make a feast out of almost nothing. I don’t know how they raised three kids on such a limited budget.

In Atlanta, I wasn’t able to give my attention to a garden so I decided to treat my hair like a garden. I wasn’t able to cultivate the land but I was able to cultivate my hair and myself.

In the town where I was raised, there weren’t a lot of African Americans and we didn’t have a strong sense of culture. So, as soon as I left home to attend Georgia State University, I was finally in an urban environment. In Atlanta, I began to learn more about my African heritage and made connections with people who were trying to get in touch with their heritage. This experience of learning about my ancestry and connecting with new people who had culture on their minds had a huge impact on me. Also, the new people that I connected with happened to have natural hair. Before meeting them, I didn’t realize that our curly, dense, and beautiful hair was such a wonderful thing. I always remember being told to straighten my hair, which was so unnatural and so much hard work. It was just a great experience to embrace myself, my history, and to feel proud of where I came from. My campus experience with African American students who were learning about our history and becoming culturally aware was the catalyst that led me to cut my hair.

After I cut my hair, I realized that I looked like my brother because we share the same shaped head. Later I decided to allow my hair to grow out into Locs. In Atlanta, I wasn’t able to give my attention to a garden so I decided to treat my hair like a garden. I wasn’t able to cultivate the land but I was able to cultivate my hair and myself.

Phillips: How do you manage your hair when you are on tour?

Wright: It’s a little tough, but it’s taken me a couple of years to figure out what works best on my hair. One of the best things that’s happened to me since I began growing Locs is that I started watching YouTube videos. The best way to learn how to care for your Locs is from people who have Locs. I have watched a lot of videos and tried different tips and products. I saw one video where a girl said you need to brush your Locs and I said to myself, “No, it’s dad again!” [referring to her father’s instance that she’d comb her hair 100 strokes per night].

I’ve had the best results when I wash and deep condition my hair once a week. I have a wet and dry system for everything. Sometimes, I’ll go poofy and not twist it for a while. Other times, I’ll brush my Locs with a soft bristle brush, because brushing helps to remove the lint from my Locs. I give myself scalp massages. Before some performances, I do soft twists but I still leave my roots poofy. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with these funky rollers that I found in Germany called Air Rollers. After conditioning my hair and adding a little bit of gel, I’ll curl my hair with the Air Rollers. When I’m on tour, I play games with my hair. It will take me a couple of years before I develop my own system to maintain my Locs.

LizzWrightAirRollers

Lizz Wright’s Air Rollers

Phillips: Did you always view your dark skin and natural hair as beautiful?

Wright: By traveling the world, I’ve learned that who I am and where I come from is the most beautiful thing in the world. It just so happened that the world taught me this important lesson. I grew up around military families who weren’t deep rooted and didn’t have a strong sense of culture (except through church). When I was hanging around the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUC) while at Georgia State University, I began to realize how much fun it is to be African American, to have dark skin that resembles the earth, to be able to absorb sunlight, to have the strong bones of my family, and how beautiful we are. I’ve been all around the world a few times over and I really think where I’m from is the best thing that I have going for me.

Phillips: Do you see a connection between your passion for gardening and your creativity?

Wright: Yes, I spend time gardening and being with nature, because I need to practice natural order. If I have to make an important decision that affects my career, an upcoming tour, or a business deal, I’ll go harvest something, plant something, or clean out a bed. Connecting with nature is my way to train my brain to recognize the next natural step. Whatever business we are in, we are all experiencing changes due to new trends, but for me, it’s important to play by rules that are deeper than trends; especially if we want to hang around for a long time. Studying and practicing natural order by gardening and hanging out in nature helps me to make sustainable decisions.

 

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